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Morocco court toughens migrants’ sentences over border tragedy

A Moroccan appeals court has beefed up prison terms against 15 African migrants involved in a June border tragedy in which two dozen migrants died, a rights group said Friday.

The migrants, from Sudan and Chad, had been arrested after some 2,000 people, stormed the frontier with the Spanish enclave of Melilla on June 24 in a bid to reach European Union territory.

Rights groups have accused border guards on both sides of responding with excessive force, leaving at least 23 migrants dead — the worst toll in years of such attempted crossings.

The 15 migrants had been found guilty of illegally entering Morocco, violence against the police, armed assembly and resisting arrest.

On Thursday, an appeals court in the border town of Nador “decided to increase the initial sentences of 11 months in prison to three years” against 15 migrants arrested after the tragedy, said Omar Naji of the AMDH rights group.

“It’s a very severe ruling — we had expected the sentences to be reduced,” Naji told AFP.

He added that all the migrants had denied using violence.

The Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta have long been a magnet for people fleeing violence and poverty across Africa and seeking refuge via the continent’s only land borders with the EU.

Since the June 24 incident, dozens of mostly Sudanese migrants have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from eight months to two years in prison without parole.